Summary: I preach expository messages, and this is the seventeenth in my series on the Book of Acts.
“The Ripple Effect”
September 2, 2007
Hannibal used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together!” Luke has been setting the stage for the coming-together of God’s grand plan of expanding the gospel to all people, and today’s text demonstrates the continued “widening” of the gospel range. That’s not remarkable to us because, as I illustrated a couple of weeks ago, it doesn’t easily occur to us that the gospel didn’t originate in America—until I pointed it out, hardly any of us considered ourselves products of foreign missions, when in fact we all are! If we’re not careful, we’ll read our Americo-centric viewpoints and presuppositions back into the text and setting of Scripture. Thus it became popular in the 80’s, for instance, to uncritically read II Chronicles 7:14 and apply it wholesale, directly, and uncritically to America. Remember that verse? In the KJV, it reads, “if My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their ways, then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land.” Nice verse—but it’s a misuse of the Bible just to haul that promise uncritically right over into present-day America.
Thus, having grown up 2000 years after the founding of the church, with the gospel having spread around the world, it doesn’t strike us as noteworthy to consider the emphasis of Luke here on the gospel’s spread—but it was quite a different thing to the Jews who were used to considering themselves, by virtue merely of being of Jewish lineage, as being God’s people. Everyone else was dirty, vile, disgusting, and certainly separated from God by an unfathomable gulf (though, if they’d just read their own Scriptures more carefully, they’d have known that not to be true!). The gospel centered in Jerusalem, site of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, site of Pentecost and the first church. But then, responding to the command of Christ, the gospel began a branching-out, and today we see the change brought by the gospel in the lives of three individuals. (Read Acts 9:32-43).
In the 1980’s, Bruce Hornsby lamented that the attitude of many people is, “that’s just the way it is; some things will never change!” And still today, from time to time, we hear that question raised: “can a leopard change his spots?” Michael Vick pled guilty in federal court to dogfighting charges, and afterwards, apologized and spoke of finding Jesus.
“I want to apologize to all the young kids out there for my immature acts and, you know, what I did was, what I did was very immature so that means I need to grow up…I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player. I take full responsibility for my actions…not for one second will I sit right here and point the finger and try to blame anybody else for my actions or what I’ve done. I’m totally responsible…I’m upset with myself, and, you know, through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God.”
What is a Christlike response? ”
There are people who don’t want to hear about God, about Christ, about change—and many doubt the possibility that a Mike Vick can change. But our texts recently have pointed out to us this fact: God changes things!
As we spoke of last week, the grace of God in the gospel not only saves people, but it changes people as well, and in today’s text, we see several people being changed by the grace of God—and the one whose transformation might be missed in this narrative is the one whose transformation had the greatest impact ultimately of the three. Notice first that
I. The power of Christ heals Aeneas.
Today’s text traces the ministry of Peter in two maritime areas of Palestine: Lydda and Joppa. Lydda was 25 miles NW of Jerusalem, a crossroads town where the highway that led from Egypt to Syria intersected with the highway leading from Joppa to Jerusalem, a town of some significant size for those days. This is the only time we see its appearance in the NT. Environments of both of these towns was distinctly Gentile, even if the people healed were Jews. The ripple effect…
“Saints” is a term used in the New Testament of all who are followers of Jesus Christ, referring not to their character so much as to their status as those set apart by God as “holy” people, though implied is the idea that we who are called “holy” should live holy. Interestingly, it’s not used in the NT in the singular, but always in the plural. Does this imply to us that it is in relationship to other believers, as well as in relationship to God, that we find our identity? We don’t know how it is that these “saints” had come to faith in Christ; were some who were scattered from Jerusalem (during the persecution beginning with Stephen’s martyrdom) responsible for sharing the gospel with them? Regardless, Peter considered them to be within his sphere of ministry, and he was concerned to care for them there. We don’t find it in the text, but we can assume that he went there, not so much to heal, but to provide pastoral care: teaching, exhorting, caring, and the like. Luke chooses not to record anything, however, except two healings. This would seem in keeping with his purpose in Acts to show the expansion of the church via the unleashed power of the Holy Spirit.